May 12, 2008 in Nation/World

Middle-schoolers suspended for not standing during pledge

Paul Walsh (Minneapolis) Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS – Three eighth-graders in Minnesota were suspended by their principal for not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance last week, violating a district policy that the principal now says may soon be reworded to protect free speech rights.

“My son wasn’t being defiant against America,” said Kim Dahl, mother of one of the students, Brandt, who attends Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Junior High School in northwestern Minnesota.

Brandt told the Forum newspaper in Fargo that Thursday’s one-day in-school suspension, “was kind of dumb because I didn’t do anything wrong. It should be the people’s choice.”

The school’s handbook says all students are required to stand but are not required to recite the pledge.

“These three (students) didn’t, and they got caught,” said Mel Olson, the district’s community education director. He said he backs the punishment, “being a veteran and a United States of America citizen, absolutely.”

Chuck Samuelson, head of the Minnesota American Civil Liberties Union, said that the school’s actions against the students are unconstitutional, and his office informed the district of that Friday in a strongly worded letter.

Samuelson said numerous U.S. Supreme Court rulings dating to the 1940s say in “well-settled constitutional law” that “students who refuse to participate in the pledge cannot be punished for refusing to participate.”

Colleen Houglum, the principal who suspended the three, acknowledged in a statement that the policy may need to be modified.

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